"The Switchman" was published in 1952 in the collection Confabulario. Ten years later it was rereleased, along with the rest of his published work at the time, in the collection El Confabulario total. Arreola invented the word "Confabulario," meaning a collection of fables, and his ability for invention is apparent from the stylistic originality of "The Switchman" as well as the broad range of his other work.
"The Switchman" is a dialogue between an anonymous traveler and a switchman on the railroads, in which the railroader details the horrors of the sub-operational rail system. He describes areas where one or no rails exist, facades of stations designed to trick passengers into disboarding, and the slim odds of the stranger ever reaching his destination. On one level the story operates as a satire on the Mexican transportation system, while on another the railroad is an analogy for the hopeless absurdity of the human condition. At the time of publication, Confabulario was relatively well-received, but over time Arreola's short stories have come to be seen as his strongest work. "The Switchman" in particular has received attention as a piece that is emblematic of the author's mastery of allegory and satire.